WASHINGTON – Outlines of a possible compromise over President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency border spending request were emerging Thursday in Congress, which would involve making policy changes to allow the minors streaming to the border from Central America to be sent home more quickly.
The top Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate both said Thursday that they don’t want to give the president a blank check and want to see the law changed to speed the children’s deportations.
Immigrant advocacy groups and some Democratic lawmakers have opposed such steps. But the top House and Senate Democrats on Thursday left the door open to them. The White House also has backed such changes, although in face of advocacy opposition it has yet to formally propose them.
The immigration crisis has given Republicans a new line of attack on Obama ahead of midterm congressional elections in November.
After coming under attack for refusing to visit the border during a trip to Texas, Obama turned to one of his chief critics, Texas’ Republican Gov. Rick Perry, to try to make his point on how to respond.
Following a meeting in Dallas Wednesday with Perry, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, the president suggested there was little difference between Perry’s calls for additional assistance at the border and the nearly $4 billion request Obama sent to Congress this week to help deal with thousands of unaccompanied child immigrants who have overwhelmed the Border Patrol in Texas. He also made a public appeal for Perry to wield his influence with Texas’ Republican-heavy congressional delegation and press them to back the emergency spending package.
“The only question at this point is why wouldn’t the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?” Obama said. He argued that opposition to the urgent spending request would be part of a pattern of obstructionism from Republicans who have also resisted moving forward on a comprehensive immigration bill.
The current problem at the border comes at a time when the White House was seeking to cement an upper hand on the issue of immigration, particularly with Hispanic voters, who are increasingly crucial to electoral success in presidential elections. After House of Representatives Republicans made clear they had no plans to take up comprehensive legislation this year, Obama vowed to move forward with executive actions that would make needed changes to the nation’s broken immigration system.
But the border crisis has given Republicans fresh fodder to challenge that approach. Republican lawmakers have blamed Obama’s 2012 decision to defer deportations for some young people in the U.S. illegally for fueling rumors in Central America that unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border would be allowed to stay.
Indeed, some of the 57,000 children who have come to the border appear to be under that impression, though many are also fleeing violence in Central America. The White House has said most of the children are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief that would allow them to stay.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday planned to press Congress on Obama’s request for $3.7 billion, for what Obama has called an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
Johnson faced a tough sell as Republicans have criticized Obama for asking them for money but not for policy reforms, specifically amending a 2008 law to address human trafficking that’s contributed to the problem by guaranteeing court hearings to the arriving youths. In practice that often results in them staying here indefinitely.
Arizona Sen. John McCain and Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have criticized the plan.
“We’re not giving the president a blank check,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “This is a problem of the president’s own making.”
Boehner spoke to reporters shortly after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered the same criticism on the Senate floor.
The White House defended the request.
“There is a clear and urgent need here,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with the president in Texas. “We put forward a very specific line item proposal for what additional resources are needed and how much those resources would cost.”
Perry, in his own statement following the meeting with the president, made no promises to help Obama shore up Republican support for the supplemental spending package and instead doubled down on the notion that the border crisis was the result of Obama’s “bad public policy” on immigration.
Obama arrived in Texas under pressure from Republicans like Perry, as well as some Democrats, to add a trip to the border to his two-day fundraising swing. The White House steadfastly resisted those calls, insisting there was little the president could learn from a border visit that he didn’t already know.
Still, Obama and his advisers clearly recognized the political liabilities of ignoring the immigration crisis while working the Texas donor circuit. The White House added an immigration meeting with local officials and faith leaders to Obama’s schedule in Dallas and took the unusual step of having Perry fly with Obama on the presidential helicopter so the two could discuss the matter.
Perry kept up the pressure on Obama to make a border visit, telling CBS in an interview “that’s what presidents do. That’s what leaders do. They show up and they interact.”
The governor likened the current situation to the criticism President George W. Bush got for failing to visit New Orleans at the height of the damage and destruction from Hurricane Katrina in2005. Perry said he’s warned Obama over a year ago that the situation at the Texas border was deteriorating.
Obama said he was open to suggestions from the Texas governor and others that he dispatch National Guard troops to the border but warned that such a solution would only work temporarily. He urged Republicans to grant his emergency spending request so the government will have the resources to put a variety of ideas into action.
The money Obama is seeking from Congress would go toward seating more immigration judges, increasing detention facilities, helping care for the children and paying for programs in Central America to keep them from coming to the U.S.